Authors: Leeanna Morgan
Montana Brides Series, Book 1
Copyright © 2014 Leeanna Morgan
Published by Rogan Press
For more information visit http://www.leeanna.morgan.com
This is a work of fiction. Names, characters, places, and incidents are the product of the author’s imagination, and are used fictitiously.
Any resemblance to actual events, locales or persons, living or dead, is co-incidental.
All rights reserved. Except as permitted under the US Copyright Act of 1976, no part of this publication may be reproduced, distributed or transmitted in any form or by any means, or stored in a database or retrieval system, without prior permission of the author.
About this Book
She came to Montana looking for answers...and found forever.
When Gracie Donnelly, a school teacher from New Zealand, arrives on a Montana cattle ranch, she has more on her mind than fixing fences and feeding chickens. She's secretly searching for her father and answers to questions that could destroy a family.
Just one look at the fiery five-foot-one redhead and Trent McKenzie knows Gracie is going to be trouble. Ever since the failure of his first marriage, he promised never to listen to his heart again. Especially when his heart is saying he's falling in love - and the one thing Gracie’s searching for is the one thing that could take her away from him forever.
Forever Dreams is the first book in the Montana Brides series.
To my family and friends.
“I’m the man you’re looking for.”
Gracie dropped her map of Bozeman Airport and stared into a pair of smoky grey eyes. If she hadn’t been so tired, she might have smiled. But after twenty-three hours of nonstop traveling over two continents and countless time zones, her sense of humor had disappeared along with most of her worldly possessions.
With wide shoulders and a battered cowboy hat pulled low on his head, the man in front of her definitely wasn’t who she was looking for. “I’m sorry. You’ve got the wrong person.”
Bending down, he picked her map up off the floor and handed it to her. “Your name’s Gracie Donnelly and you’re a teacher from New Zealand. Gerald asked me to meet you. His mother had an accident and he’s staying in California with her.”
At least that explained why she hadn’t found Gerald in the crowd of people waiting in the arrivals terminal. After spending too much time waiting for her suitcases, then realizing they weren’t going to arrive, she’d thought he’d left without her. Gracie moved her carry-on onto her other arm, glad of the weight digging into her shoulder.
“Are you okay?”
“I’m fine.” She took a deep breath, wondering what else could go wrong. “I’ve been looking everywhere for him. I was worried that he thought I’d missed my flight. Is his mom alright?”
“She fell down some stairs and broke her leg. The school wants to wait until he gets back before you start teaching. Check your cell phone. He said he’d leave you a message.”
Hunting through her carry-on, Gracie pulled out her phone. Two missed calls were waiting to be cleared. Both from Gerald. As she listened to his messages, her heart sank. Before she’d left New Zealand, everything had seemed so easy. For two weeks she’d work with Gerald, teaching at Bozeman Elementary School and living with his family. The next six weeks would be spent working on a Montana cattle ranch. In between feeding chickens and looking after cows, she’d try to find her father.
Gracie was excited, her students were excited, and Gerald’s class was excited. So she’d packed her suitcases, all four of them, and traveled thousands of miles to be met by a handsome cowboy, no luggage and no Gerald.
She wasn’t so excited now.
“I’m Trent McKenzie, Ms. Donnelly.” A slow grin tugged at the corner of her rescuer’s mouth. At any other time, Gracie would have taken a few minutes to appreciate the man behind the sexy grin. But not today, and not while she was in Montana.
“Nice to meet you, Trent. Thanks for telling me Gerald won’t be picking me up. I can make other arrangements until he gets back to Bozeman.”
“It’s my ranch you were coming to in a couple of weeks. You might as well start your visit now and we’ll sort something out once he gets home.”
“Mine and the banks.”
“But I thought you’d be a lot older…not that you have to be old to own a cattle ranch. I spoke with your wife and I imagined you’d be…” Gracie closed her mouth before it landed her on a plane heading back home.
“I don’t have a wife.”
Gracie stared at Trent and tried to figure out why nothing was making sense. He stared right on back, hands on hips and looking almost as tired as she felt. “But I spoke to Mrs. McKenzie. She told me all about the ranch and what clothes to pack and she even invited me to her craft group…what?”
At the mention of the craft group some of the tension left Trent’s face. “You must have been speaking to my mom. Where are your suitcases?”
“Budapest.” Trent’s eyebrows arched so high that they disappeared under the brim of his hat.
“It’s sad but true,” Gracie sighed. “The lady I spoke to didn’t know how long it would take to get them sent back to Bozeman. I’ve filled in all the forms and they’re going to call me when they arrive.”
“Do you have any other clothes with you?”
Gracie shook her head. “Nothing apart from what I’ve got on.”
Trent’s eyes wandered down her red sweater and jeans. The corner of his mouth lifted when he saw her purple shoes with orange flowers stitched across the top. “Nice shoes, ma’am.”
Gracie looked down at her feet and thought longingly of all the other clothes she’d packed. She never went anywhere without at least half her closet jammed into her suitcases. She’d spent hours sorting through what she’d bring to Montana and what she’d leave behind.
It hadn’t been easy, but with careful planning and more than one email to Mrs. McKenzie, she’d finally settled on the perfect wardrobe. Only now her suitcases were somewhere in Eastern Europe and the only accessory she had with her was an old baseball cap. It was enough to bring a tear or two to a woman’s eyes. Or make her stomach growl like a wounded bear.
Gracie slapped her hand across her tummy. “Sorry. I didn’t eat much on the flight.”
Trent rubbed the back of his neck. “There’s a café not far from here that serves great food. We could go there before heading across to Wal-mart to find you some clothes. You’re more than welcome to stay at the ranch until we hear from Gerald.”
Gracie bit her bottom lip. The arrivals lounge was almost empty. She was tired, homeless and hungry. In two weeks time she would have been going out to the ranch anyway, so making a decision about what to do next wasn’t difficult. She was just grateful the six-foot cowboy standing in front of her wanted to be her knight in faded denim.
“Are you sure it’s not too much trouble?”
“Gerald rang a few hours ago, so we’ve got everything ready. And there’s always plenty of work to do.”
Gracie took a deep breath and felt her tense muscles begin to relax. An hour ago she’d thought she’d made the biggest mistake of her life coming to Montana. But maybe everything would work out the way it was supposed to.
She picked up her carry-on and smiled at Trent. “Thank you. I really appreciate all the trouble you’ve gone to. Consider me your newest employee.”
“This way then, Ms Donnelly.” Trent’s hand nudged her elbow as he steered her across the room. “Don’t worry about a thing. You’ll feel better before you know it.”
“Could you please stop calling me ma’am or Ms. Donnelly? My name’s Gracie.”
“Whatever you say, ma...Gracie.” With a slow smile, he added, “Welcome to Montana.”
Trent looked up as the doorbell jingled inside Angel Wings Café. Tess Williams had transformed the rundown diner into an old fashioned eatery. Tucked between a florist and a handcraft store, it had been Bozeman’s best kept secret until a food critic from New York had stumbled through her door. Now every tourist made a beeline for the café to sample the food and enjoy a slice of Montana hospitality.
He kept a careful eye on Gracie as she drank her hot chocolate. Gerald had told him to look for a woman in her early thirties with shoulder length red hair. And pink suitcases. Not that the color of her luggage had made it any easier to find her. When he’d first seen Gracie his gaze had skimmed straight past her. With her hair stuffed under a baseball cap and a frown plastered across her face, she’d looked like a teenager. It wasn’t until most of the passengers had left, and her cap came off, that he knew how wrong he’d been.
“Why did you choose Montana, Gracie?”
“It was more like Montana chose me.” She blew on the top of her drink, a frown slipping across her face. “When I decided to come here I thought it would be fun to spend some time teaching. I emailed the principal at one of the local schools and she asked Gerald if he’d be interested in having me help him. Since then our students have been keeping in touch with each other, learning about each other’s lives. Both classes are as excited as I am about being here.”
Gracie’s purple nail polish gleamed under the pendant light hanging above their table. Her hands looked tiny and soft. Fancy hands for a woman who didn’t belong on a ranch.
He nodded toward her nails. “That manicure won’t last long when you’re mucking out the barn. Are you sure you want to come and work with us?”
Gracie glanced at her hands, then dropped them onto her lap. “When I told my class I was coming to Montana they wanted me to send them pictures and stories about cowboys. And then Gerald’s class thought I’d enjoy being a cowgirl. Before I knew it, Gerald had contacted your mom and she recommended a working vacation on your ranch.” She lifted her chin, almost as if she was waiting for him to argue with the twisted tale that had brought her to Bozeman. “I’m a hard worker. You won’t regret letting me stay with you.”
Trent wasn’t so sure about that.
He smelt a rat. Not the common barn type variety, but the cuddly mother variety that could tie a man in knots and get up to all kinds of mischief at their son’s expense. Up until a year ago his mom had been content to play matchmaker from a distance. When that hadn’t worked she’d changed tactics, inviting every single woman she could find to their family dinners. After months of driving him insane she’d stopped playing cupid. Or so he thought.
His gaze swung to the table beside them as a family started singing happy birthday. Two tiers of cake almost hid the little girl laughing behind it. Giggles of delight filled the café as five princess candles were quickly blown out. Claps and cheers erupted from the people around them.
He watched Gracie’s gaze settle on the grinning birthday girl. A look that wasn’t quite happiness filled her eyes. He had a feeling there was more to this visit than she’d let on. “What else brought you to Montana?”
Looking sharply at him, she fiddled with the handle of her mug. “Nothing. That’s it.”
Her eyes skittered toward his. “I have a couple of issues to sort out. I thought working on your ranch might help put my life into perspective.”
“You’ve come a mighty long way to sort out a few issues.”
Gracie pushed her empty mug away, glancing once more at the family beside them. “I didn’t have a choice.”
Another round of excited giggles filled the café. Colored paper flew through the air and a collection of pink presents filled the party table. The birthday girl’s parents took photos, laughing at the chaos in front of them.
He knew all about choices and how they could tear a man in two if he didn’t believe he’d be better off either way. “A wise man once told me that everything looks small under a big sky. And Gracie…you couldn’t have chosen a bigger sky in the world. I hope you find the answers you’re looking for.”
“So do I,” she said softly.
He kept his gaze on Gracie as he picked up his hat. She looked lost and sad, and more than a little embarrassed. An odd protectiveness crept along his skin, prickling his conscience into thinking that maybe she’d come to the right place after all.